Reducing harm caused by alcohol

Minimum pricing

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol was implemented on 1 May 2018. 


What is minimum pricing?

A minimum price for alcohol sets the lowest price an alcoholic drink can be sold for. In Scotland, the minimum price per unit of alcohol was set at 50p per unit of alcohol, from 1 May 2018. 

Which drinks have been affected?

Stronger drinks that contain more units of alcohol have a higher price than drinks that contain less alcohol. Drinks that have been most affected include strong white cider, own brand vodka and gin, and super-strength lager.

A can of 5% lager containing 2 units of alcohol has to cost at least £1, and a bottle of 12% wine containing 9 units has to cost at least £4.50. 

Unlike supermarkets and off-licences, most drinks sold in pubs, clubs and restaurants already cost more than 50p per unit so there is no real difference under minimum pricing.

Why is minimum pricing needed?

Alcohol was 64% more affordable in 2017 than it was in 1980, particularly in supermarkets and other off-sales where we now buy most of our alcohol. 

This increased affordability has resulted in people drinking more, and in turn, more alcohol-related health and social problems.  For example, alcohol death rates are more than twice as high as they were in the 1980s.  See here for more information on the health and social harm caused by alcohol in Scotland.

Minimum pricing is an effective policy because it targets those who experience the most harm, whilst having almost no effect on moderate drinkers.

What are the benefits of minimum pricing?

Getting rid of the cheapest, strongest alcohol will mean improved health, safer communities and lives saved. 

In Canada, minimum pricing has resulted in a reduction in the amount people drink, with fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions and fewer deaths.  In the Northern Territory of Australia, MUP legislation has been associated with significant improvements in consumption, hospitalisations, ambulance attendances, violent crime, road traffic crashes and child protection cases.

Modelling by the University of Sheffield estimated that in the first year alone, introducing a 50p minimum unit price in Scotland would mean around 60 fewer deaths, 1,300 fewer hospital admissions and 3,500 fewer crimes.  This will increase over time – by the 20th year, we can expect around 120 fewer deaths and 2,000 fewer hospital admissions. 

Is minimum unit pricing working?

A thorough evaluation, led by Public Health Scotland, is underway to look at both the intended and unintended consequences of MUP.  It will publish its final report in 2023.

Several studies on the short-term impacts of MUP have already been published.  Results so far are encouraging, with high compliance, the lowest consumption rates in 25 years, and little impact on the alcohol industry.  It is still too early to see the impact of the policy on health and social harm.  

Find out more on the evaluation and other evidence on the impact of MUP so far.

Are there are plans to increase the price?

Due to inflation, the effectiveness of the 50p unit price may have declined in the eight years or so since the Parliament approved the MUP legislation. The Scottish Government have committed to reviewing the price after the second anniversary to ensure the benefits of MUP are fully realised.